Plenty of us have been saying this for almost a year now or at least suspected it strongly. The Tyrant of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been taking and holding American citizens prisoner since last winter, supposedly on charges of being conspirators (or at least sympathizers) in the failed coup attempt in Turkey last summer. One of the longest held is Pastor Andrew Brunson, who we’ve written about at length here. But now Erdogan has taken additional Americans captive, possibly more than a dozen, all of whom he alleges are somehow in league with exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, currently residing in Pennsylvania.

Does he really believe that they were part of the coup? Unlikely. But in a recent speech Erdogan openly declared that he’s looking for a trade. If we give up Gulen, Brunson will be “moved through the judicial process” and released. (NY Times, emphasis added)

One is a NASA scientist who was vacationing with relatives in Turkey. Another is a Christian missionary who has lived in Turkey for 23 years. Others include a visiting chemistry professor from Pennsylvania and his brother, a real estate agent. They are among a dozen Americans who have been jailed by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and face long prison sentences for allegedly playing a part in a failed coup last year…

Mr. Erdogan himself seemed to confirm the suspicion last month, when he told a gathering of police officers in Ankara that he would hand over an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, once the United States gave him Mr. Gulen.

“They say, ‘Give us this certain pastor,’” he said, recounting his meeting with American officials. “You have another pastor in your hands; give him to us,” he railed.

If Mr. Gulen were handed over, the president said, he would sort out Mr. Brunson’s judicial case. “Give him to us and we will put yours through the judiciary; we will give him to you,” Mr. Erdogan said.

With all due respect to the New York Times’ coverage, the Turkish president was doing more than “seeming to confirm suspicions.” That’s pretty much a black and white statement of intent. “Give him to us and… we will give him to you.” That’s not a law enforcement process or a criminal investigation. That’s the demand of a hostage taker.

So far, Rex Tillerson, Vice President Pence and President Trump himself have all supposedly discussed Brunson and the other hostages with the Turkish President and his leading ministers. And despite Trump’s pronouncements that he’s developed a great friendship with Erdogan, nothing has come of it in terms of getting our people released. In the case of Pastor Brunson it’s been an entire year at this point. When is enough enough?

It seems to me that an “ally” of ours would be working a bit harder to maintain a positive relationship with the United States. Why should we even be discussing what is effectively a blackmail attempt with a NATO member that claims to support the west? We can’t ignore the criminal justice system of our allies, but if Turkey has some sort of proof that our citizens were engaged in an attempt to overthrow their government they should produce it and get on with a trial. If not, all of those people should already be home.

While it disturbs me to say it, President Trump has failed in this critical task thus far. But should we be considering turning over Fethullah Gulen at this point? We’d basically be sentencing him to a horrible death and if he wasn’t really involved in the coup (no evidence of this has been presented to the public thus far) it would be a moral failure on our part. But at the same time, we’re talking about one Turkish citizen vs. a dozen or more American citizens. If Erdogan was willing to release all of them, not just Brunson, immediately in exchange for Gulen…

I can’t even finish typing that sentence. It just looks, feels and smells wrong. If Turkey has presented evidence (or can do so now) showing that Gulen masterminded the coup then we would have grounds to make the deal. But if he’s just a convenient demon that Erdogan has summoned up to justify his persecution of the opposition groups in his own country, that’s not how we’re supposed to operate in the United States.